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Human Encounters

Introduction to Intercultural Communication

Oyvind Dahl

This book gives a comprehensive introduction to intercultural communication. The reader is introduced to essential concepts in the field, different theories and methods of analysing communication, the importance of verbal and nonverbal languages for bringing about mutual understanding and, finally, the ethical challenges that arise.

The volume also has a practical aspect. The author discusses subjects such as handling encounters with people using foreign languages; incorporating different life styles and world views; the use of interpreters, non-familiar bodylanguage; different understandings of time; relocation in new settings; the use of power and how to deal with cultural conflicts generally.

Published as a general textbook in English for the first time following a very successful original edition in Norwegian, also translated to Russian and French, this richly-illustrated book offers a refreshing and engaging introduction to intercultural understanding

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CHAPTER 7 Verbal Communication: Language


In the previous chapters, we introduced static-descriptive and dynamic-constructivist cultures. I presented different communication models and explained three different analytical methods, with an emphasis on process, semiotics and hermeneutics. Now is the time to discuss what instruments we use to get in touch with each other: obviously the most important is how we use language: verbal language and nonverbal language. Language is a central theme in the study of intercultural communication.

When the first Europeans arrived in Australia, a newcomer, who met one of the Aborigines, wanted to know the indigenous name of the strange animal that jumped around with a baby in a pouch on its belly. To explain what he meant, he emulated the jumps and gestures. “Kangaroo?” said the Aborigine. It means something like “What is the matter with you?” The European did not understand the language and noted kangaroo with great satisfaction, and since that time this has been the European name of this animal. But what the animal is called in the indigenous language is only known by the Aborigines!

Such linguistic misunderstandings are not rare. We do not need to go to Australia to find them. When a Norwegian farmer says that “now is the time for apples”, it may mean potatoes – earth apples. “Don’t lose your temper, I was only pulling your leg.” “Pulling one’s leg” does not mean to pull somebody’s lower limb, but is an English expression for teasing somebody.

In this chapter we shall...

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